74. What is Censorship?

For people to be truly free, they must live in a society that values free speech. All too often, governments suppress speech that is contrary to their ends in order to maintain control. But it’s not just governments. Lots of people use censorship to try and control the narrative instead of letting people freely voice their opinions and beliefs.

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Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Connor: Hey, Brittany.

Brittany: HI, Connor.

Connor: In past episodes, we have talked about free speech, why free speech is so important, especially the First Amendment in the Constitution, and how it protects our right. It doesn’t give us the right to free speech, right? it protects, our existing right to free speech to say what we want to believe, what we want to worship, whatever God we want to say, nice things and bad things, and everything in between. But, there’s kind of a flip side of this issue that I think is important to talk about. So, today I wanted to talk a little bit with you about censorship and, what that means. So, as I understand the word, censorship means when someone else is preventing you or restricting you from using your speech, from saying what you want from expressing yourself, the way that you desire. why is, censorship such a bad thing? Britney? What are your thoughts?

Brittany: Well, we talk about free speech and the importance of not even just free speech ideas, right? The free spread of ideas. And when you have censorship, especially when that censorship comes from the government, then, you’re not allowed to spread information anymore, which means you’re not allowed to even spread like knowledge or even, let’s say the government’s doing something wrong. And this has happened many times. We’ve talked about this. You sometimes lose your ability to even say, what’s going on? This happened during the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln jailed a lot of journalists for, reporting negatively about him. So truth is what is what stands to be harmed, I think when censorship is put into place.

Connor: So let’s maybe distinguish, what we mean by censorship. So, primarily is when the government or some, you know, the authoritative body is punishing you for using your speech or saying, we will punish you if, you know, you say bad things about us, for example. And, that is different from, you know, restricting speech for, let’s say like, you know, I own a company and I don’t want any of my employees, saying bad things about our competitors or expressing their political views, you know, using the company’s email, just cuz we want to kind of keep the peace between employees and not have, you know, they start fights, between one another because of, you know, different political views. or even, Facebook is, you know, taking down certain messages or, adding little, what do they do now? They have like little fact check,

Brittany: Fact check, but it’ll, like block your post even, it’ll say like, you know, check facts before you look at this post kind of thing.

Connor: Yeah. If it’s an image, they now kind of put a little cover over the image that says, you know, this has been independently verified to be false. So, in the example, I gave with the employer telling his employees or her employees that, can’t say certain things as a condition of working there, or the Facebook example, why are those different? Why are those, why should we not consider those as censorship? Brittany?

Brittany: I think that’s really important, I was gonna say clarification to make, because Facebook and all the other social media companies, they’re private, right? They are not a government company. And the First Amendment only protects us against government censorship. It doesn’t protect us about private censorship. And that is because in the market, right? You have lots of other places you can go. Now this comes and do a little bit of a problem with Facebook because so many people think that because everybody’s on Facebook, that makes Facebook some sort of public good. And I’m saying that with air quotes. I know you can’t see that listeners, but, they think that because the public is using it, therefore it is a public good, like a road or something, and therefore they shouldn’t be able to censor anybody. But that’s just silly because it is a private company, and private companies are allowed to do what they want as long as it’s not, you know, murdering you or something, and then you are allowed to take your business elsewhere. So that’s why there’s a big difference.

Connor: The example I like to give is imagine if you Brittany, come to my home and I let you in to my home, and while you’re there where I have my, you know, young children and my wife, and let’s say my mom and grandma and other family members are there, and you come in and, you know, you’re just such a rude person, Brittany, that you start being really vulgar and nasty and saying horrible things about my grandma and, you know, cursing at her and all these things. I have every right to tell you to be quiet or leave, right? And say, if you don’t stop that, you’re going to have to leave my home. And then if you don’t, stop. If you continue to be vulgar in this example, I have every right to kick you outta my property. Yep. And then if you know you don’t leave, then you’re trespassing and things can escalate from there. That’s an important distinction. And maybe kind of the root, example with the employer example or Facebook is because it’s really about property rights, it’s about who can restrict you on their property. Now, for the employer, right, the business owner, that’s their property. You are not entitled to that job. they do not have to let you work there. And so they can set the conditions and it’s an agreement. They can say, look, if you want to continue working here, right? You have to do these things. You have to abide by these rules. You’re free to leave. But if you wanna stay on their property, if you wanna stay part of their business, then you have to do what they say that’s not censoring. That’s really just agreeing to a property owner or business owner’s wishes as a condition of your agreement. And same thing with Facebook, right? As you point out, Brittany, it’s, it’s not a public good, it’s, it’s Facebook’s website. Yep. You know, now there’s parlor, right? And a bunch of other examples where,

Brittany: Float, I think it’s another one that some crypto people I know are trying to start. So like there’s these little ones popping up, not as big as Facebook, but,

Connor: And they’re popping up because they perceive that there’s a demand among conservatives to have a social media platform that is not doing this fact-checking and, is not shadow banning people’s posts and, just not restricting conservative people from posting what they want, which is fantastic. That’s the market. People can flock to those other alternatives if they want. But for us to say, oh, Facebook shouldn’t be able to restrict people. What people are really asking for in those cases is that the government should do something about it. In fact, Congress, just, it was a while ago, but Congress held a hearing with a bunch of the big tech companies, right? And, they’ll grill them. They’ll,  ask their CEOs all these questions, and why are you banning content, and why are you favoring one group over another? We don’t want the government to be involved in restricting Facebook, because then that makes matters even worse. You remember, Britney, we talked recently about negative rights Yes. Versus positive rights, right? When, the government and other people should just leave you alone, right? Not restrict your, speech, not restrict your right of self-defense, they should kind of stay out so that you can be free to act versus, you know, positive rights, positive duties where they, you know, the government is now saying, we are going to re redistribute your money, as you know, to pay for other people’s healthcare. I feel like it’s the same way with censorship, right? The government should respect the First Amendment, it should basically leave us alone to use the speech that we want. Versus when people are saying, oh, we should force the business owner to, you know, not discriminate and, let people say what they want. Or we should force Facebook to make them stop censoring conservative voices? What you’re really asking for is almost like a positive duty, right? The government should do something. They should threaten Facebook, they should find them, you know if they don’t stop doing these things. And, negative rights are the natural rights. Those are the good ones versus the positive ones where we run into problem. and so I think that’s a very important clarification. Now, Brittany censorship is not new. It’s not just, you know, no Facebook and all these things. So, talk to me about kind of the history of censorship or like, what’s an example or, you know, has this kind of a new thing or has this been around for a while that a lot of people have been concerned with?

Brittany: I mean, this has been around forever. I, you know, I probably joke that as long as there have been governments and somebody has said something bad about an elected official, there has been censorship, right? especially we, you know, we don’t get it as bad here as in other places. And it’s, easy for us to harp on America and say, you know, we’re so bad at this, this, and this, and there’s a lot to improve on, but we’re pretty good at this. When we look at places like China, right, where China’s had censorship, I mean, since forever. You, go and you look back at the different dynasties and everything that rained, there’s always been censorship there. And now it’s so bad that it’s impacting even American politics here in America. I mentioned Abraham Lincoln, I believe it was, John Adams, with Alien Sedation acts. I believe? right? That was John Adams.

Connor: That was, in fact, I’ll pause, to share that story. I love sharing this story. Yes, please do. Everyone is like founding fathers. They were so great. They did everything right, and yet here are the very same guys who passed the constitution running into problems. So, let me paint the picture briefly. we’ve got the French Revolution right over in France. There’s a lot of, you know, they’re tearing down these institutions kind of like, you know, BLM and Tifa type people in the streets right now trying to just tear down, oh, white supremacy, everything, let’s burn everything down. And capitalism is awful. In France, you had similar things, right? That tear down the monarchy and everything is awful. And, so a lot of the Americans were very worried about that because what happened is that a lot of French people started moving to America because they didn’t like what the government was doing. They didn’t like the restrictions, they didn’t like, among other things, the censorship. And so they wanted freedom. They moved to America. So here’s John Adams, president of the United States at this time, and he was very worried about, all these French people moving in because of his perception and the people of his same political party, the Federalists, they didn’t like the French. They thought the French were, you know, what they called anarchists, just like anti-government people. That was their perception of the French, that they were just gonna spill that over into America and cause problems here. So the Federalists, his political party, president Adams, they passed a series of laws called the Alien and Sedition Acts. And so moms and dads out there, this is some really fun homework to learn about with the kids. there’s a lot of controversy around the alien and sedition acts and a lot of very interesting stories to learn. So that would be some fun research to do. Well, the sedition acts, the alien acts that aliens are kind of immigrants, right? They’re people from other countries. And so they did all kinds of restrictions or trying to keep the French people out. But the Sedition Act, that was passed, said that it was illegal to criticize the president and to criticize Congress. Now, this was very blatantly against the First Amendment, again, right? Protecting free speech. Congress shall make no law, right, regarding speech. And yet here they were saying you can’t criticize the President and the Congress. Couple interesting points there, Brittany. The first is if you caught on to what I just said, I said the President and Congress, I did not say Vice President because the vice president at the time was Thomas Jefferson, who was a member of the opposing political party at the time in America, the top two vote-getters, right? The top vote-getter would become president, and the next runner-up would become vice president. And you’d have this, you know, people, in charge of the federal government who were kind of opponents in the election. And that’s what happened. Thomas Jefferson was, a member of a rival political party, and here he is working with, John Adams. And so Congress said, don’t criticize the president who’s a member of our political party and don’t criticize us, but hey, go ahead and criticize Thomas Jefferson all you want. Right? And, this wasn’t just a law that is.

Brittany: It sounds like something we’d hear Trump say if that were the system, right? Like, don’t, you can’t make fun of me, but please make fun of the other guy,

Connor: Exactly. And so this wasn’t just a law that was put on paper. This wasn’t just like, oh, we passed it, but nothing ever happened. No. Like people were actually punished. Benjamin Franklin’s grandson, among many other people, who were, punished, his grandson was the editor at the time of a newspaper, and he was using his newspaper to criticize the Congress and President Adams and this law that was very anti-freedom. It was unconstitutional. And so here’s this newspaper editor publishing this stuff, basic First Amendment, free speech kind of stuff, excuse me. And what happened? The guy is arrested, he’s imprisoned, he’s fined, here in early America, you would think the founding fathers would understand and apply what they were talking about. And yet, even at that early age of our country, we had censorship. So it goes to your exact point, Britney, that no country is immune. And you know, this stuff has kind of existed for a very long time.

Brittany: No, I think you’re absolutely right. And I think, one of the things, and I say this a lot, and part of the reason I say this a lot is cause it’s a line in my favorite Harry Potter book, which is the fourth one, constant Vigilance. Madi Moody says that all the time that we have to remember that this is probably not going to be a problem that ever goes away. This is going to be something we’re always going to have to kind of battle with right back and forth between governments because it is in the government’s best control to stay in power. And it is in there you know, if that is their aim, then their, biggest motive then is to kind of like control the information, right? Make sure that everyone still thinks they’re doing a good job because they do rely on our boat. So I think it’s very important to remember when it’s happening. And, also I think one important thing to point out where yes, Facebook, Twitter, and all these places are private. They have the absolute right to kind of takedown any repost really, to, censor anything you say. But it’s also not great that they are right in a truly free society you shouldn’t fear what somebody else says because you should believe that your beliefs are strong enough to kind of stand on their own merits. And I think that’s happening less and less where people get so worried about what other people think. They’re kind of scared, but again, still not nearly as bad as the government, right? Because government, they’re really not allowed to. It is in the Constitution. So I think that’s an important distinction to make.

Connor: A final point I want to add on top of that as we wrap things up here is, uh, you have censorship on the one hand, like the full restriction. And, there’s lots of other countries that do a lot worse than the United States of America. The First Amendment, even though it’s often ignored or abused, is still there. And, most governments and most elected officials will respect it. And so our tradition in America of free speech is actually fairly strong still. And in other countries, you don’t have that. I mean, imagine, you know, China, Russia, Venezuela, right? Criticizing those in power, you’re gonna get swiftly punished. And, so that leads to the final point I wanna make, is that part of the problem with censorship, even when it’s not really being enforced, is what’s called a chilling effect. So the chilling effect is when people censor themselves, right? When I’m worried about what other people might think, I’m worried about what, others will do, I’m worried if someone in the government saw this, that okay, yeah, maybe, I’m not gonna be thrown in jail or, you know, maybe we have the First Amendment or whatever, whatever. But you know what, I’m just not gonna say that cuz I’m, nervous about, you know, what might happen if I do? and that’s a shame, right? Because we should,  want a society where people can freely share their thoughts, where we can engage with one another’s thoughts, have civil discussions, heated debates sometimes, and,  try and, you know, exchange our views with one another, communicate civilly. So it’s, a shame. But that is part of the censorship, or even kind of the soft censorship or a thread of censorship, is this chilling effect where it’s not like a government worker is going around with a baton and oh, you’re not allowed to say that. Oh, I’m gonna punish you, I’m gonna flog you now because you posted that on Facebook or you said that mean thing. oftentimes what happens is the public just gets nervous and they comply on their own, right? Because they’re worried about what might happen. They’re worried about if someone saw it or if someone, you know, got angry and what could happen. So these are important things to think about because if we want a tradition of freedom if we want to kind of defend our rights, we have to be able to speak up when there are problems, right? We have to be able to say, that is wrong and let’s not do that, and let’s do what’s right. And if we can’t do that, if we are either punished for it or even if we silence ourselves because of that chilling effect, I think we run into a lot of problems. So, homework for today, we’ll, link to it on the show notes page, a couple of resources for you to check out about the Alien and Sedation acts. very worth looking into, especially the Sedation Act as it pertains to, the issue of free speech and censorship. That even here in America, even the very people who were signing and defending the Constitution were still having problems defending free speech when they were the ones being criticized. So, fun stuff to learn about. Very important topic, Brittany, thanks is always, and I’ll talk to you next time.

Brittany: Talk To you next time.

 

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